At the dawn of the 21st century Italy still finds itself with the problem of small municipalities - a constant element in its history - unsolved. Their number remains high, about 8.000, a good 57% of which still have less than 3.000 inhabitants. It is difficult to imagine that small municipalities can adequately fulfil the functions that recent constitutional laws require. The paper explores the institutional patterns that inter-municipal cooperation has developed during the 1990s and concludes that while these were once seen as opportunities today they represent a necessity, otherwise the «federalist» approach to which Italy is committed would be called into question. Centralism has in fact been able to survive without local autonomy, but it is difficult to envisage that devolution can develop without promoting new forms of cooperation at the local level.